Gone are the days parents brought in sugar-laden, empty-calorie, cavity-inducing, full-on-carb treats to their child’s school for a birthday. However, even without all the sugary treats, this boy's birthday was still pretty sweet.
A special birthday celebration at school
In the place of birthday cupcakes, cookies and other confections, my school district has ushered in the politically correct era of “feed-the-brain-and-not-the-belly” mentality, which begat the “Parent/Guardian Birthday Book Read.”
My son, Ethan, loathes most dessert delicacies anyway, (DNA tests to prove he’s actually my biological son are pending) so the book is a nice change of pace.
A special present
Ethan’s birthday was Friday, Sept. 6, so Michael and I were invited to the classroom. Katelyn Kawejsza (pronounced: kah-way-zah) and Alissa Faucher (pronounced: foe-shay), Ethan’s new teacher and paraprofessional respectively, warmly greeted us when we arrived, as did Ethan. In anticipation of the day, Ethan previously told Michael and I that the book read would go as follows — “Daddy reads one page. Mommy reads one page. I [Ethan] read one page.”
Before we read the story, Ms. Kawejsza had the children (and us) sit in a circle as they do every day for “morning meeting.” When seated and quiet, Ms. Kawejsza brought out a small box with a bow, symbolic of a birthday present. She explained that the gift would pass from one child to the next, at which time the class would greet the child with the gift by his/her first name. In turn, the child with the gift then compliments the birthday child with a phrase that begins with “I notice you…” — and the compliment must focus on the child’s actions and behaviors, not his/her physical characteristics.
I notice you...
The first child barely finished the word “you” before tears welled in my eyes. These are some of the compliments Ethan’s classmates said about my son:
“I notice you…”
At this point, Miss Faucher gave me several tissues to wipe my eyes — and blow my nose in a most unladylike fashion (a Ziering family tradition) — and the compliment circle was only halfway complete. Any mother (parent) would swell with pride to know that her child makes such a positive, lasting impact on classmates. But, only the parent(s) of a special needs child can truly understand the daily mental, physical, financial and emotional effort it takes — by both parent and child — to undergo never-ending therapies, IEPs, PPTs and extracurricular activities, for a child to be accepted in the mainstream.
As noted author, speaker, cited expert and autism advocate Temple Grandin perfectly stated, “I am different, not less.” Ethan’s generation — a generation who bears witness to 1 in 50 peers diagnosed on the autism spectrum — understands he is different, but not less. What Ethan’s classmates don’t notice is how hard he (and other special needs children) works to assimilate into a typical classroom and typical society.
What they don't notice
But I notice these things. I notice them because I am his mother. Most of all, I notice that my son — through his hard work, empathy, intelligence, smile and music — will one day change the world for the better. And, I notice that he already has.
Image credit: Allison Ziering Walmark
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